TORONTO — Rush drummer Neil Peart says the legendary Toronto band is in the early stages of planning a new project but the new music may not be released in traditional album format.
“We feel very much liberated from the album format in a way right now, because in the three years since our last album (2007’s Snakes & Arrows), suddenly albums don’t mean anything,” Peart told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview from his home in California.
“We’re thinking of writing and recording a few songs and maybe releasing them, and playing them live, and then going back and doing some more later. We just feel really free (in terms) of what we might do right now.
“Anything is possible in the nicest way and we like the fact of shaking it all up.”
Peart says he’s started writing new lyrics while bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson are preparing at their Toronto studio (“every time we start a new record, the technology is all different, and we’ve gotta learn it . . . again,” he explains).
Asked if he would be willing to reveal details of any of the new songs, the personable Peart replied: “No, sir. (But) I like them.”
But the 57-year-old says the band is aware that the record industry is in flux, and would rather adapt with the times than worry about the past.
“We’re kind of taking this as a challenge to do something with, rather than to moan about,” he explained.
“(It’s) a healthier reaction than getting mad: ’Aww, things aren’t how they used to be — we wanted to make a 12-inch album with two sides!’ Those things ARE hard to give up, and every time now we make a side one and side two mentally and build the dynamics . . . so there is something lost.
“But, on the other hand, it’s pointless to lament about it, and now we have the opportunity to take advantage of this amorphous situation going on in the music business right now.”
Peart was similarly forward-thinking when it came time to record a new version of The Hockey Theme, the iconic song that has opened broadcasts of Hockey Night in Canada for 40 years.
Peart’s version will debut on TSN during tody’s broadcast of the Toronto-Philadelphia game and will then be used for the rest of the season by the network.
After being “blown away” by the invitation to recreate the classic tune, Peart decided on his approach: a “drum solo with horns.”
Drawing on every trick in his drumming arsenal — and it’s an understatement to say the famed percussionist has many — Peart tried to cram as many spectacular flourishes into the one-minute clip as he could.
He imbued a bit of a Latin flavour to the beat, included a breakneck snare fill and his classic double kick-drum fills, played with a tempo and phrasing that Peart says were unique for him.
He’s hopeful that Canadians are willing to give his version a chance.
“I can only hope that it’s received with the spirit and sincerity with which I offer it,” he said.
“Because, like with anything else, there’s bound to be a certain conservative backlash: ‘That doesn’t sound how it sounded before!’ That is human nature, to be comfortable with things they way they were, so I can only hope people will receive it as well as I mean it.”
And Peart clearly means it.
A lifelong hockey fan, he speaks with an obvious passion for the project.
Peart talks of a childhood spent in St. Catharines, Ont., attending junior A games with his dad, tucking hockey cards into the spokes of his bicycle and flipping the paddles on table-top hockey games.
In the early ’80s, he recalls that Rush would occasionally rent arenas after their concerts, dress up in full hockey gear and play until the wee hours of the morning.
“Play terribly, not with any grace or skill, but certainly with enthusiasm and a lot of laughter,” he said.
Now living in California, Peart says he relishes tuning into games when he stays at his home in Quebec.
“One of my great pleasures is to be up there in the winter and sit down on a snowy night and put the hockey game on,” he said. “It’s like putting an IV into my arm of Canada, of Canadian-ness.”
Recording the new version of “The Hockey Theme” in Los Angeles meant trying to educate his American musicians on the song’s iconic importance north of the border.
“I told them: ‘Every Canadian can hum this theme and real Canadians have it as a ringtone,”’ he said.
“I said: ’This performance we’re about to make will be heard by every man, woman, grandma, child, moose and beaver in Canada. There’s no American analog for this. This is absolutely a nationwide phenomenon.”’
Peart used a custom-designed drumset while recording the song. The set is adorned with the logos of all 30 NHL teams — each one sprayed and masked by hand, one colour at a time, he said — and a blue chrome finish that Peart wanted to look like icicles.
The set will now be kept in the Hockey Hall of Fame. That fact delights Peart, in part, because he says he was never very talented as a hockey player growing up.
“What a joke, eh!” he said with a laugh. “I made the joke to my mom, I said: ’Take THAT, bullies from 50 years ago!’
“The other joke is that we (Rush) have not been put in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but now we’re in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“I think, as Canadians, we’re satisfied.”